Performing as five of the greatest singers of the 20th century counts as brave in anybody’s book, foolhardy almost. Yet Bernadette Robinson manages to do just that, rising to the challenge in appropriately stellar style. That she makes each impersonation seem so effortless is the first step in taking her solo show to another level of special.
There’s Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf and then Billie Holiday, with Maria Callas as a finale. What a line up. Arguably, Robinson’s challenge grows as the show’s 90 minutes progress, using the confidence she wins from the audience to her advantage. Each diva gets a song or two, impeccably arranged by Ian McDonald, and the musical side of the show is satisfying and entertaining.
But there’s more. Robinson’s clever move is in recruiting the talents of director Simon Phillips and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Allowing her acting to shine as much as her singing – no mean feat – the script is a series of cameos that feature the eponymous ‘nobodies’. Again, the variety is designed to impress; from an American journalist to an English librarian, women of different backgrounds and ages are all brought vividly to life as each recounts her encounter with a star.
Murray-Smith’s writing for these reminiscences can rightly be described as gem like. The short sketches take us to different times and places with crystal clarity. Each woman is star struck, which is repeatedly endearing, but the celebrities themselves, while convincingly magnetic, aren’t what this jeweller’s eye is studying. Full of humour and pathos, with a fair share of wisdom, it is these ordinary woman that interest most. The frank honesty of the monologues reflects the strange intimacy you can feel with a great performance from a big star. The move, from meeting a nobody to finding out they are a somebody, is inspiring every time. That’s just as big an achievement as the uncanny moments of vocal mimicry, making this a night of not five stars but ten.
Until 23 February 2019
Photo by Nick Brittain